Queen's Gazette | Queen's University

Search form

Learn how Queen's is planning for our safe return to campus.

Health Sciences

Custom program developed for Health Science leaders

Health Sciences Leadership Series

A program designed to improve the leadership capabilities and communication skills of Health Sciences faculty members.

Visit the Faculty of Health Sciences website to register.

By Mark Kerr, Senior Communications Officer

Health Sciences faculty members spend years training for their roles as educators, researchers and scholars. In many cases, though, there aren'™t the same opportunities to develop specific skills required for their administrative and managerial duties.

The Office of Faculty Development in the Faculty of Health Sciences aims to change that by collaborating with the Human Resources Department on a new management development program. The Health Sciences Leadership Series will launch this September with the first cohort of 30 participants completing six full-day sessions throughout 2014-15.

"This program is modelled after one that myself and a number of other faculty had the opportunity to take several years ago," says Tony Sanfilippo, Associate Dean, Undergraduate Education, Faculty of Health Sciences. "In retrospect, the content has proven to be highly relevant and practical. The Health Sciences Leadership Series will be invaluable to any faculty members charged with administrative responsibilities or curricular development."

Human Resources designed the program specifically for Health Sciences faculty members. The material will cover challenges, situations and conflicts they will encounter in their day-to-day work. Dr. Sanfilippo says participants will gain a deeper understanding of their leadership capabilities, expand their communication skills, enhance their project management skills, and improve their ability to build relationships both within and outside their department.

The Health Sciences Leadership Series will be invaluable to any faculty members charged with administrative responsibilities or curricular development.

Tony Sanfilippo, Associate Dean, Faculty of Health Sciences.

With the Health Sciences Leadership Series, Queen's Human Resources Department continues to expand its leadership development programming. The department has offered a similar program for non-academic managers since 2009.

"œWe are excited to partner with the Faculty of Health Sciences to extend this valuable leadership training to their faculty members," says Al Orth, Associate Vice-Principal, Human Resources. "We are hopeful that the positive outcomes of this series will result in opportunities to work with other faculties on similar programs in the future."

The series has the added benefit of meeting the accreditation criteria for two professional organizations. It is an accredited group learning activity for the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. The program also meets the accreditation criteria of the College of Family Physicians of Canada.

Online registration is now open with the first session slated to take place Sept. 16. More information is available on the Faculty of Health Sciences website or by contacting Shannon Hill, Learning Development Specialist, Human Resources, at ext. 74175.

On-campus academic activities cancelled today due to weather

Only essential areas on campus are operating. 

Due to COVID-19, Queen’s university has already been operating with most academic and operational activities occurring remotely. 

As the result of the current and forecasted weather conditions, the few remaining on-campus academic activities are cancelled. In addition, the university will only operate with a reduced level of service.  This means:

  • Instructors with classes on campus/in-person will determine whether they will continue remote or cancel the class.  Instructors will provide further details.
  • Remote classes will continue as scheduled.
  • Employees working remotely should continue to do so.
  • Employees that are scheduled to come to campus should work remotely if possible. 
  • Only essential areas should be operational on campus. Managers of these areas should determine the level of staffing that is needed to keep these operations functioning. 

More details on the University’s inclement weather process and a list of essential areas can be found on the Inclement Weather webpage

If you are required to travel to campus, please allow extra time and proceed with caution.

Support and collaboration with healthcare providers can help people make health decisions

Shared decision-making upholds person-centered care and supports people to take charge of their own health: their views, input and experiences are important contributors to health plans.


The Conversation: Shared decision-making upholds person-centred care and supports people to take charge of their own health: their views, input and experiences are important contributors to health plans.
Shared decision-making is a patient-centered approach to health choices that considers a patient’s values as well as clinical evidence. (Unsplash)

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in an unprecedented interest in science, as people everywhere were faced with making decisions that affected their health. These included decisions such as following public health protective measures, getting vaccinations and accessing health-care services.

All of this has taken place in rapidly evolving, uncertain environments. The events related to the COVID-19 pandemic have highlighted the importance of what constitutes credible information or evidence (research-based information) and how evidence is communicated and used to make decisions. At the start of the pandemic, little was known about COVID-19, and making health decisions was a challenge.

The ongoing pandemic has given rise to what is characterized as an “infodemic” due to the sheer quantity of information available, including the rapid spread of misinformation or fake science reporting. From media outlets reporting in a 24/7 news cycle to the reliance on social media influencers, in many instances with a strong editorial bias, the information environment is bewildering and difficult to navigate.

The amount of information can pose daunting challenges to those who are seeking information to make informed health-care decisions. For example, misinformation has been found to negatively affect people’s willingness to get vaccinated and can lead to risky behaviours.

Making decisions that impact health has been a nearly universal experience during the pandemic: it affected everyone. Often these decisions were made without support from health-care providers. Our health systems have been challenged to better support people to make health-care decisions, such as exploring options to determine how to support informed, values-based COVID-19 vaccination decisions.

We are members of an interdisciplinary, international team of patient partners, health-care providers, educators and researchers that include the perspectives of patients in a leadership capacity. We have been seeking to understand and advance an approach to preparing patients for health decisions called shared decision-making.

Support for people to take charge of their health

“Shared decision-making” is when a person experiencing a health issue works together with their health-care providers to make decisions about screening, treatments or managing chronic conditions. Shared decision-making upholds person-centred care and supports people to take an active role in their health-care decisions.

Standard care provides patients with evidence-based information about health choices. However, with shared decision-making, the person’s individual preferences, beliefs and values are considered in making health decisions, as well as clinical evidence.

Importantly, shared decision-making is a process that supports people to understand the risks and benefits of different options through discussion and information sharing with their health-care providers.

In fact, shared decision-making has been called “the pinnacle” of person-centred care. A key feature of shared decision-making is the exploration of patient values and priorities and it can be facilitated by using evidence-based decision support tools and approaches.

Shared decision-making upholds person-centered care and supports people to take charge of their health. (Unsplash)

Decision coaching

Patient decision aids and decision coaching support people to have an active role in making decisions. Decision aids include booklets, videos and online tools that make the decision clear, provide options and the pros and cons, and help people clarify what matters to them.

They may be used by patients alone or in consultation with a health-care provider. They have been shown to help people feel more knowledgeable, better informed and clearer about their values. In addition, people probably have a more active role in decision-making and more accurate risk perception.

Our team viewed it as important to determine the unique contribution of decision coaching, an intervention with strong potential to help people prepare for health-care decisions. Decision coaching is delivered by trained health-care providers to support people facing decisions, with or without the use of an evidence-based tool (such as a patient decision aid).

We conducted a systematic review to assess the effects of decision coaching. The review included 28 studies that covered a range of medical conditions with treatment and screening decisions.

While further research is needed on many outcomes, we found that decision coaching may improve participants’ knowledge (related to their condition, options, outcomes, personal values, preferences) when used with evidence-based information. Our findings do not indicate any significant adverse effects (for example, decision regret, anxiety) with the use of decision coaching.

Although we began our systematic review before the COVID-19 pandemic, our exploration of decision coaching is even more relevant given the decision demands of the pandemic and accompanying difficulty of the decisions.

Experiences with the COVID-19 pandemic have shown that, in rapidly changing complex health-care environments, strategies that uphold person-oriented health care are critical. Shared decision-making tools and approaches, ideally using decision aids and decision coaching, can contribute to shaping person-centred health-care services that puts people first and upholds the principle of “no decision about me, without me.” To make the best health decisions for themselves and their families, people need support and opportunities to work with trusted health-care providers.

Maureen Smith, chair of the Cochrane Consumer Network Executive, co-authored this article.

______________________________________The Conversation

Janet Jull, Assistant Professor, School of Rehabilitation Therapy, Queen's University; Dawn Stacey, Chair professor, School of Nursing, L’Université d’Ottawa/University of Ottawa, and Sascha Köpke, Professor, Institute of Nursing Science, University of Cologne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Conversation is seeking new academic contributors. Researchers wishing to write articles should contact Melinda Knox, Director, Thought Leadership and Strategic Initiatives, at knoxm@queensu.ca.

Tuning in to sustainable practices across the pond

The crew of a hugely popular BBC Radio program visits the Bader International Study Centre to learn more about sustainability and biodiversity efforts to preserve the natural environment.

A BBC panel of experts learns about biodiversity at the BISC.
A BBC panel of experts learns about biodiversity at the Bader International Study Centre (BISC). (Supplied)

With its more than 600 acres of land containing medieval parklands, ancient woodlands, meadows, ponds, marshlands, and formal gardens, Queen’s University’s Bader International Study Centre  (BISC) serves as the backdrop to the latest episode of the hugely popular Gardeners Question Time (GQT) on BBC Radio 4.

“The idea to do a special broadcast from the BISC sprang from a climate change gardening workshop in the Autumn this year,” says Director of Corporate Development at the BISC, Duncan Adams. “Peter Gibbs, who chairs the panel of horticulture experts, was intrigued by the idea of the Castle’s efforts to increase biodiversity and sustainability, and thought it would be of interest to many listeners across the UK and beyond.”

As part of the broadcast, a panel of horticulture experts were hosted by the Castle’s Gardens and Grounds Manager, Guy Lucas, with the location being chosen to showcase some of the work undertaken on the estate to increase its biodiversity and sustainability. The panel had access to the entire estate but were guided through some key areas, including the Castle Courtyard, the Elizabethan Garden, Rose Garden, and Shakespeare Garden.

Over the centuries, numerous changes, both inside and outside the castle walls, have resulted in a loss of biodiversity and preservation of the unique grounds. In order to improve and restore the estate’s surrounding environment, Lucas and his team of gardeners and grounds staff are implementing sustainable ecological practices such as rewilding to repair damaged ecosystems and restore the grounds to their original state through natural processes. Sustainability and biodiversity are combined to help nurture and preserve the natural environment, while providing a living lab for students, staff, and members of the public. 

The 42-minute episode also included a wander through the grounds as panelists answered diverse questions from listeners about their own gardens, including how to encourage slugs, the lifespan of potting soil, and, just in time for the holidays, how to thicken a holly hedge.

Adams says the radio experience will help to raise the BISC’s profile.

“We really want listeners to have a better understanding of what we are doing here on the estate, how hard we work on it and how important it is to not only the Estate but the local habitat too. “

The Castle grounds are now closed for the winter, with next year’s season launching in mid February.

The BISC prides itself in it’s academic quality, offering six programs with over 60 courses for students in Arts and Science, Commerce, Engineering, Health Studies, Liberal Arts, Social Science and more. A focus on small class sizes, individual attention and experiential learning opportunities throughout the UK and Europe help to develop skillsets that serve graduates well as they head into the workforce.  

Allowing students to interact with and learn from the estate team’s sustainability and biodiversity agenda is an integral part of the BISC’s mandate. The BISC Skills Award (BSA), which encourages students to participate in university events and programs for personal development, presents an excellent opportunity for student engagement. Recently, this program has incorporated the estate team’s sustainability and biodiversity initiatives into the curriculum by allowing students to partake in projects including invasive species removal, pond maintenance, rare species seed planting, and the designing of a new student services cottage garden.

“The work we do on sustainability and biodiversity is increasingly embedded into our academic programs” says Adams. “The BISC Skills Award (BSA) helps students build graduate attributes to support their academic qualifications. Our Bees and Trees, and other projects, have this year allowed students to get involved in sustainability programs on the estate learning new skills and giving something back to the environment.”

The BISC’s focus on sustainability also contributed to Queen’s success in the Times Higher Education (THE) Impact Rankings revealed that Queen’s University had placed first in Canada and fifth in the world in its global ranking of universities that are advancing the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Queen’s earned its Impact Ranking after successfully implementing programs to improve sustainability within and outside of the local Kingston community.

Gardeners’ Question Time was broadcast Dec. 17 and 19. You can listen or download the recording here. For more information, visit the BISC and Herstmonceux Castle websites.

2021: The Year in Research

A review of the major initiatives, the funding and awards garnered, and the research that made headlines over the last twelve months.

Each year, we take a moment in December to reflect on the accomplishments of our community in advancing research that helps us tackle some of the world’s most pressing questions and societal challenges.

[Photo of three researchers working in a lab]

While 2021 offered glimmers of hope in moving beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, it also tested and challenged our research community in myriad other ways. In balance, this year also saw Queen’s rank 1st in Canada and 5th in the world in the Times Higher Education Impact Rankings, which provided a testament to the impact of the university’s research and scholarship in advancing social impact and sustainability within and beyond our local community.

Through all of this, research prominence remained a key driver for Queen’s and our researchers continued to make national and international headlines for their discoveries and award-winning scholarship.

Join us as we review some of the highlights of 2021.

Recognizing research leadership

In 2021, Queen’s welcomed Nancy Ross as the new Vice-Principal (Research). Dr. Ross, an accomplished research administrator and renowned expert in population health, joined the university in August and succeeded Vice-Principal (Research) Kimberly Woodhouse, who had been interim in the role since 2018.

[Photo of Dr. Nancy Ross]
Dr. Nancy Ross began her five-year term as Vice-Principal (Research) on August 1, 2021.

This year saw Queen’s researchers win some of Canada’s top awards and honours for research excellence and the university ranked third in Canada for awards per faculty member (2022 Maclean’s University Rankings).

Our international expertise in cancer research and cancer clinical trials was cemented with Elizabeth Eisenhauer’s receipt of the Canada Gairdner Wightman Award for outstanding leadership in medicine and medical science, and Joe Pater receiving the inaugural Canadian Cancer Society Lifetime Contribution Prize.

Praveen Jain was honoured with the prestigious IEEE Medal in Power Engineering, the highest international award in the field of electrical power, and world-renowned philosopher Will Kymlicka’s contributions to the humanities were recognized with the RSC Pierre Chauveau medal.

Queen’s also had a successful year earning fellowships within Canada’s national academies. Sari van Anders, Heather Castleden, and Karen Lawford were named members of the Royal Society of Canada’s College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists  and professor emeritus John Berry was named a Fellow. Health administrators and research leaders Jane Philpott, Kieran Moore, Doug Munoz, and John Muscedere were inducted into the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences, and Kim McAuley, Mark Diederichs, Mark F. Green, and Ugo Piomelli were elected to the Canadian Academy of Engineering.

Research that made headlines around the world

An exoskeleton designed by Queen's engineering researchers Michael Shepertycky, Qingguo Li, and Yan-Fei Liu that improves walking efficiency was featured in the leading academic journal Science and international media outlets, including the New York Times.

Health expert Christopher Mueller developed mDETECT, a cancer detection test that provides a real-time response to chemotherapy and early detection of relapse, while researchers Amber Simpson and Farhana Zulkernine applied AI and natural language processing techniques to CT scans, to predict cancer spread.

The much-anticipated UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) dominated headlines around the world and Queen’s environmental experts Kyla Tienhaara and John Smol shared their hopes for conference outcomes. On the ground at COP26, Ryan Riordan of the Institute for Sustainable Finance provided key takeaways and next steps for global governments. In the Canadian arctic, Queen’s researchers, the Government of Nunavut, and Indigenous community partners worked together to develop an innovative approach to studying the impact of climate change by monitoring the health and movements of polar bears.

[Photo of polar bears in the Artic]
BEARWATCH, a project led by Queen's researchers in partnership with local communities, governments, and other university collaborators, received funding from Genome Canada's Large-Scale Applied Research Project competition and the Ontario Genomics Institute to develop a non-invasive method for tracking polar bear health in the Canadian Artic.

New research by Chris Spencer showed that the mid-Proterozoic period, about 1.8 to 0.8 billion years ago, dubbed as the “boring billon” was actually a time of great mountain-building events. Researchers at the Queen’s Facility for Isotope Research joined the cast from The Curse of Oak Island to hunt for gold and silver treasure sediments in the water collected from boreholes on a Nova Scotia isle.

[Photo of highly deformed rocks from the Sperrgebiet region of Southern Namibia by Christopher Spencer]
A geologist exploring 1-billion-year-old and highly deformed rocks from the Sperrgebiet region of southern Namibia. These rocks experienced significant deformation and extreme metamorphism during a continental collision over a billion years ago. (Photo by Christopher Spencer)

Funding future research

In 2021, Queen’s continued to attract competitive funding and awards, through a number of national and international programs. Hundreds of grants for new projects and research infrastructure were secured through CHIR, SSHRC, NSERC, and CFI, Canada’s national funding agencies, and other partners.

Here are a few examples:

  • More than $10 million was secured by Queen’s researchers through CFI’s Innovation Fund for infrastructure that will help to combat climate change, treat cancer, and understand the fabric of the universe
  • Over $6 million was awarded to Queen’s researchers through NSERC’s Alliance Grants to collaborate with industry partners in areas such as computing, wireless communications, and nuclear power
  • Eight doctoral students earned prestigious Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarships for exceptional scholarly achievement and leadership skills
  • Over 125 Queen’s researchers across disciplines received support from SSHRC, the Canada Research Chairs Program, and NSERC as part of a bundled funding announcement under the banner of “Supporting BIG Ideas”
  • Queen’s researchers received over $11.5M funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research for projects addressing human health issues from cancer and pain to healthy aging
  • With $1.6 million in funding, NSERC’s CREATE program supported the implementation of an experiential graduate training and research program in medical informatics, led by Parvin Mousavi at Queen’s
  • A multidisciplinary team of Queen’s researchers received $7.9 million from Genome Canada for a new project exploring a microbial platform for breaking down and valorizing waste plastic, which can then be repurposed to produce recycled products
  • Cathy Crudden received the largest NSERC Discovery Grant in Canada (valued at $605k over five years) for her breakthrough work in novel organic coatings

[Photo of a researcher reviewing a sample on a desktop]

Mobilizing our knowledge

This year, we were again challenged to find creative ways to engage with our audiences and mobilize expertise. Research and alumni experts joined forces to provide insight into our post-pandemic future, through the Road to Recovery virtual event series. These events, moderated by multimedia journalist and Queen’s alumnus Elamin Abdelmahmoud, reached over 1000 attendees.  

Science Rendezvous Kingston celebrated its milestone 10th anniversary and marked it with a series of virtual events and the development of an interactive, virtual Exploratorium with no geographical limitations to participation. Audiences also had the opportunity to experience, in-person and virtually, artistic interpretations of the elusive dark matter. The exhibition and residency project, Drift: Art and Dark Matter, generated by Agnes Etherington Art Centre, the McDonald Institute, and SNOLAB, brought together artists and scientists in the quest to understand the invisible substance that comprises about 80 per cent of the universe.

[osèfa Ntjam, Organic Nebula (detail), 2019, carpet, photomontage. Collection of the artist.]
Josèfa Ntjam, Organic Nebula (detail), 2019, carpet, photomontage. Collection of the artist.

The WE-Can (Women Entrepreneurs Canada) program led by Queen’s Partnerships and Innovation (QPI) celebrated supporting over 800 women from underrepresented groups and sectors regionally in achieving their entrepreneurial goals and pivoting their programs to an online format. This year’s virtual Indigenous Research Collaboration Day incorporated the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals in highlighting the importance of collaboration in research with Indigenous communities.

Hundreds of Queen’s researchers provided expert commentary to the media in 2021, and our community continued to mobilize their research and expertise through fact-based analysis on The Conversation Canada’s news platform. In 2021, 77 Queen’s graduate students and faculty published 74 articles that garnered over 1.5 million reads.

Congratulations to the Queen’s research community for their resilience and successes this year. We look forward to seeing what new research and opportunities 2022 will bring. For more information about research at the university, visit the Research@Queen’s website.

Major renovation announced for Duncan McArthur Hall

  • The newly-unveiled design for the expansion of Duncan McArthur Hall includes a seven-story addition at the southeast corner of the existing building. (Supplied image)
    The newly-unveiled design for the expansion of Duncan McArthur Hall includes a seven-story addition at the southeast corner of the existing building. (Supplied image)
  • The current view of Duncan McArthur Hall on West Campus, located at Sir John A. Macdonald Boulevard and Union Street,
    The current view of Duncan McArthur Hall on West Campus, located at Sir John A. Macdonald Boulevard and Union Street,

Queen’s is undertaking a significant redevelopment of Duncan McArthur Hall, located on its West Campus.

The redevelopment and expansion of Duncan McArthur Hall’s ‘A’ wing, will see a substantial addition to the building, and provide increased classroom, research, study, administration, and social spaces for both the Faculty of Education and elements of the Faculty of Heath Sciences.

The project will target Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold certification, and incorporate sustainable technologies to minimize greenhouse gases in support of the sustainability goals set out in the Queen’s Climate Action Plan. This will include a geothermal energy system to provide heat and cooling to the new building.

“This project will enable Queen’s to address the expansion needs of the Faculty of Education and Health Sciences, while improving the student experience at Duncan McArthur Hall and continuing to make progress on our sustainability targets,” says Donna Janiec, Vice-Principal (Finance and Administration). “I’m also excited about the opportunity for collaboration as we bring elements of Queen’s Health Sciences to West Campus.”

The project will expand the ground floor of the “A” wing of Duncan McArthur Hall, creating four 50-person classrooms, plus two additional 100-person classrooms. This utilizes the undeveloped area under the current building overhang. Additional classroom renovations (A243 and 343) and the existing main entrance – known as student street – will also take place.

The proposed seven story addition at the southeast corner of the existing building will accommodate classrooms, break-out and study facilities on the first and second floors. The upper floors will provide administrative offices for both faculties.

“This redevelopment project will create space to accommodate our growing faculty, optimize offices to reflect new practices in workflow processes, support students with collaborative learning spaces, and develop 21st century teaching spaces that reflect the design of contemporary schools,” says Rebecca Luce-Kapler, Dean of the Faculty of Education. “Providing new modern spaces, study space for graduate students, and sufficient research spaces for the faculty’s research groups will enrich the university’s reputation and appeal to students and the community.”

“Queen’s Health Sciences is thrilled to be a partner on this project,” says Jane Philpott, Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences. “As we drive forward with our new strategic vision for radical collaboration, this redevelopment will create much needed space for the activities that are critical to our operations.”

The construction of the proposed seven story building is the first phase of the project, and is targeted to start in the summer of 2022 with the tower targeted for occupancy late in 2023. Renovations and expansion of the existing ‘A’ wing would then occur through to 2024.

The Faculty of Education began work on the project in 2019 with the completion of a feasibility study conducted to determine the best way to incorporate new office, study, and teaching space in Duncan McArthur Hall.  Queen’s Health Sciences joined the project in 2020 to accommodate their growing need for administrative space.

Duncan McArthur Hall is located on the West Campus of Queen’s University. The campus was purchased by Queen's in 1969.

Duncan McArthur Hall was built between 1969 and 1971 with funding from the Ontario government. It houses the Queen’s Faculty of Education, the Queen’s School of English, Continuing Teacher Education, and the Education Library.

For more information on the Duncan McArthur Hall project, visit the project website.

Breaking down linguistic barriers

New Queen’s research reveals the potential impact of language on immigrant health outcomes.

[Photo of a hospital waiting room]
Patient waiting room in a healthcare facility (Unsplash)

Immigrants represent two-thirds of Canada's population growth and make up more than 20 per cent of the nation's population (Statistics Canada). As Canada’s largest age group – the baby boomers – enter their senior years, elderly immigrants along with them, many are facing several mental and physical health issues. Many aging immigrants, however, in addition to managing their health, also must contend with linguistic barriers that discourage interaction with the healthcare system.

A Sri Lankan-born, Canadian immigrant himself, researcher Don Thiwanka Wijeratne (Internal Medicine and Public Health) is aiming to uncover how immigrant health is impacted by the linguistic barriers that exist in healthcare. Along with his collaborators from Queen’s (Gerald Evans and Sudeep Gill), the University of Toronto, and McGill University, he recently published a study in Drugs and Therapy Perspectives, analyzing the different rates at which long-standing Canadian residents and immigrants undergo unplanned, emergency hospital visits.

In order to focus their research, the team looked at the use of a common blood thinner called Warfarin, used to prevent blood clots, among three groups: long-standing Canadian residents, language proficient (LP) immigrants, and non-language proficient (NP) immigrants, all over 65 years of age. The study documented how often members from each group presented at the hospital for a health emergency related to the use of Warfarin.

Dr. Wijeratne’s team found that older immigrants, both LP and NP, who immigrated to Canada in the last five years may be less likely to seek medical attention for emergency healthcare needs than their long-standing Canadian resident counterparts. Similarly, non-language proficient immigrants were less likely to present to the hospital with unplanned healthcare visits in comparison to language proficient immigrants.

[Photo of Don Thiwanka Wijeratne]
Dr. Don Thiwanka Wijeratne (Internal Medicine and Public Health)

“Language challenges can reinforce systemic and social-cultural barriers to accessing healthcare services and further, prolonged language barriers have been strongly associated with poor health outcomes,” says Dr. Wijeratne. “Hence, to optimize healthcare provision, it’s important to explore the true effects of immigrant health and healthcare utilization at a population level.”

One explanation for the discrepancy in the number of hospital visits between immigrants and long-standing residents is a phenomenon often referred to as the “healthy immigrant effect.” This effect is thought to be the result of several factors, including immigration screening, which favours healthier candidates, proactiveness among immigrants in seeking preventive and primary healthcare services, and the fact that many older immigrants coming into the country are often cared for by family members who provide physical care and help them navigate linguistic barriers. The culminating impact of these factors is that immigrants in general exhibit better health than their Canadian resident counterparts and thus, normally experience a lower number of health emergencies.

Less encouraging, however, is what the study’s findings indicate about the healthcare experiences of non-language proficient immigrants. Dr. Wijeratne’s team found that those who were not fluent in English or French were less likely to present to hospital with unplanned emergency healthcare visits than language proficient immigrants. This may indicate a serious lack of linguistic accessibility provisions in hospitals, and the team offered suggestion of how healthcare systems might look to remedy these shortcomings.

“Ready resources, including interpretation and representation of more diverse ethnicities among healthcare workers, will facilitate communication in multiple languages and offer more culturally attuned service provision, catering to cultural diversity,” says Dr. Wijeratne.

The study received funding from the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-term care, under the Ontario Drug Policy Research Network (ODPRN), and the Canadian Patient Safety Institute. Dr. Wijeratne and his team plan to continue their research on this issue by leveraging the Canadian immigration database, which can be linked to healthcare utilization databases in Ontario. These population-level analyses will facilitate exploration of knowledge gaps and unique healthcare needs for non-language proficient immigrants.

“These findings are significant because they highlight potential shortcomings in our healthcare system that, if left unfixed, could threaten the lives of a large portion of our population," Dr. Wijeratne notes. 

For more information on Dr. Wijeratne and his research, follow him on Twitter (@Dr_DTW).

Narrowing the gap in health care access

Queen's researchers bring the first portable MRI to Canada’s north.

Omar Islam, Department of Radiology
Omar Islam, Head, Department of Diagnostic Radiology, Queen’s University, Kingston Health Sciences Centre, and his team are bringing a portable MRI scanner to Canada’s north for the first time.

When Queen’s researcher Omar Islam (Radiology) first encountered the Hyperfine portable MRI at an international radiology conference in 2019, he immediately realized the potential impact a plug-in magnetic resonance imaging device on wheels could have in remote communities across Canada. Now, thanks to the support of Health Canada and industry partners, Dr. Islam and his team are bringing the portable MRI scanner to Canada’s north for the first time. With patients in these communities having direct access to the device rather than travelling long distances for diagnoses, he and his team will study the potential of this model to serve other sites to help democratize access to health care.

Hyperfine Swoop Portable MRI
Hyperfine Swoop Portable MRI 

Queen’s and Kingston Health Sciences Centre (KHSC) provide medical services to a predominantly Indigenous population in the Weeneebayko Area Health Authority (WAHA) – Moose Factory and surrounding communities – in Northern Ontario. Currently, patients in WAHA requiring urgent or routine MRI have to be transported by medical charter flight to either Timmins or Kingston. Statistics show that adverse events related to the transportation of critically ill patients can be as high as 60 per cent, with serious incidents occurring in nearly 10 per cent of transports. A portable MRI could reduce these risks by having diagnostic tools directly available to health professionals and the patient.

Until very recently, the technology for portable MRIs did not exist. In 2020, a portable MRI device invented by the US-based company Hyperfine received FDA approval and has since been used in academic centers throughout the US and, during the COVID-19 pandemic, in intensive care units for cerebral imaging. The first-of-its-kind device provides imaging for the brain and head in point-of-care settings such as intensive care units, emergency departments, mobile stroke units and resource-limited environments. Unlike traditional machines which can weigh up to three tons, the unit is small enough fit in an elevator and run off a standard power outlet and tablet.

“I thought a portable MRI would be a game-changing technology to bring to Canada, especially in areas where MRI availability is limited or non-existent,” says Dr. Islam. “The analogy would be the introduction of cell phone service to geographically isolated areas around the world where previously even a land-line did not exist.”

Dr. Islam and team have received Health Canada clearance and ethics approval from WAHA and Queen’s for a year-long study on the impact of the portable MRI within the WAHA community. The Hyperfine machine was transported to Weeneebayko General Hospital, in Moose Factory Ontario, where local health practitioners began scanning patients in November.

The team’s study ultimately aims to evaluate the clinical utility and costs savings of a portable MRI in a remote setting such as WAHA.  This includes cost-benefit analysis of performing local imaging in comparison to transporting patients to a larger centre. To assess image quality and clinical use, all imaging will be analyzed by board-certified neuroradiologists at KHSC.

Student experience

Elaine Innes, Project Co-PI and Chief of Staff at Weeneebayko Area Health Authority, right, and Chloe DesRoche 2nd-year medical student, Queen's University and Project Lead, left.

Second-year Queen’s medical student, Chloe DesRoche (Right), has been part of this project from early on and was pivotal in assisting with the ethics approvals, communications with Health Canada, organizing logistics with Hyperfine, and training of the health care team in Moose Factory. She is pictured here with Dr. Elaine Innes, Project Co-PI and Chief of Staff at Weeneebayko Area Health Authority. Read more about Chloe's story here.

“We hope to prove that through the availability of a portable MRI to communities in Canada’s north, such as WAHA, there will be improved access to advanced health care, decreased health care costs, and improvement in the lives of patients and their families living in small remote communities throughout Canada,” says Dr. Islam.

Currently, access to MRI scanners is limited by their cost, setting, and infrastructure requirements. The need for neuroimaging can be time sensitive like in cases of an acute stroke, so point-of-care imaging offers the potential for faster diagnosis, treatment, and better patient outcomes.

“The mission and vision of the Weeneebayko Area Health Authority is to provide care as close to home as possible and the Hyperfine MRI project is another big step in that direction. Prior to this, patients in the Weeneebayko region have had to travel south to obtain any MRI imaging so now this eliminates the need for travel, time away from home, etc,” says Dr. Elaine Innes, WAHA’s Chief of Staff. “We are very excited here at WAHA to have one of only two machines in Canada and are very happy to collaborate with Queen’s University and industry partners on this very innovative project.”

Both the Queen’s and WAHA teams hope the findings from this study will guide the use of portable MRIs in other Canadian communities and even around the world.

“This project is a perfect marriage between innovation and delivery of high-quality patient care,” says Dr. Islam. “It serves as a practical example of using technological advances to jumpstart health care innovation for those in our society disadvantaged by lack of access, geographical barriers, and financial constraints. Through this work we hope to help narrow the health care access gap that currently exists between remote communities in Canada’s north and large urban centres.”

Making fall break permanent

Queen’s will provide a week away from classes each fall term going forward to help the university community rest and focus on health and wellbeing. 

Photograph of Queen's pole pennant in front of Grant Hall.
The fall term break will go into effect for the 2022-23 academic year and will be a week away from classes beginning on the Thanksgiving holiday each October. (University Communications)

Fall break will now be a permanent fixture on the Queen’s academic calendar following a vote by the Senate on Nov. 30. The Senate made this decision based on the recommendation of the Fall Term Break Task Force, which conducted broad consultation with members of the Queen’s community and received just under 8,000 responses to the fall term break survey that was open in October.

“We had a fantastic response rate to our survey from students, faculty, and staff, and we found overwhelming support for making fall term break a permanent part of the academic calendar going forward,” says William Nelson, Co-Chair of the Fall Term Break Task Force and Associate Dean (Teaching and Learning), Faculty of Arts and Science. “Students in particular let us know that a fall break is beneficial for their mental health, as it allows them to relax, rest, catch up on work, and, in some cases, visit friends and family back home. Queen’s has listened to this feedback and is pleased to take action in support of our community’s health and wellness.”

The fall term break will go into effect for the 2022-23 academic year and will be a week away from classes beginning on the Thanksgiving holiday each October. To accommodate this new schedule, classes in the fall term will now begin on the Tuesday after Labour Day. The consultation process found that faculty, staff, and students believe this is the least disruptive way to alter the academic calendar. Student Affairs programming will continue during fall breaks for students who remain in Kingston.

“Mental health is an important issue for many students, and an annual fall term break will be an excellent opportunity for them to focus on wellbeing while resting and regrouping for the rest of the semester,” says Ryan Sieg, Vice President (University Affairs), Queen’s Alma Mater Society and member of the Fall Term Break Task Force. “This change will align us with many other universities who have found a fall term break beneficial for their communities.”

In addition to the survey, members of the task force held consultation meetings in faculties, schools, and units across Queen’s. The task force also reviewed the fall term break policies of a selection of other Canadian universities and found that most offered a fall term break in 2021. Following recommendations from the Report of the Principal’s Commission on Mental Health, Queen’s introduced the fall term break in 2018 as a three-year pilot. The Senate Committee on Academic Development and Procedures (SCADP) created the Fall Term Break Task Force this fall to provide a comprehensive recommendation on the future of the break. Prior to approval from Senate, the task force’s recommendation was approved by SCADP on Nov. 10.

Learn more about the Fall Term Break Task Force on the Queen’s Secretariat website.

Neurosurgeon named one of Canada’s Top 40 under 40

Dr. Teresa Purzner is making a difference as an assistant professor in the Queen's Department of Surgery, researcher at Kingston General Hospital Research Institute (KGHRI), and clinical neurosurgeon at the Kingston Health Sciences Centre.

Teresa Purzner was drawn to Queen’s by the university’s reputation for research collaboration. Her own track record for working with others just saw her named one of Canada’s Top 40 under 40 for 2021.

Dr. Teresa Purzner
Teresa Purzner, an assistant professor in the Department of Surgery, was recently named one of Canada’s Top 40 under 40 for 2021. (Supplied image) 

“I was definitely surprised, I know there was heavy competition this year,” she says of her national recognition, noting she was one of over 1,200 nominees. “I had come to terms with the idea that even being nominated was an honour so then to actually get the award was exciting and unexpected. After hearing about everyone else’s accomplishments in this year’s 40 Under 40, it makes you even more humble.”

The annual leadership award recognized Dr. Purzner’s combined efforts in clinical neurosurgery, entrepreneurship, and research. 

Her research passions include pediatric brain development and how it can lead to brain cancer.

“The interface of brain development and brain cancer is something I am interested in,” she explains, noting she is attracted to research that can help people – including the development of drugs that can make a real difference for patients.

As a clinician scientist neurosurgeon, Dr. Purzner wears many hats: assistant professor in the Department of Surgery at Queen’s, researcher at Kingston General Hospital Research Institute (KGHRI) and clinical neurosurgeon at the Kingston Health Sciences Centre.

While she has only been in Kingston for a few months, she credits the collaborative Queen’s and KGHRI environments as places where her ongoing research will be able to thrive and grow.

“Queen’s support for surgical scientists is really quite unique in North America,” she says, noting her ability to truly devote 50 per cent of her time towards research was something she hadn’t seen elsewhere.

“I have been blown away by the ability of people to collaborate at Queen’s,” she adds. “There are so many people who are excited to be doing high-level work and doing things with you. I dream too big for just one person – I am totally dependent on collaborative help.”

Those dreams are coming to fruition at Queen’s.

Dr. Purzner is already having an impact in Neurooncology as she builds a translational research program with her partner Dr. Jamie Purzner; their dedicated lab space is provided by the Department of Biomedical and Molecular Sciences. The many collaborative projects on her plate include a cancer clinical trial launching in 2022, plans to set up a brain tissue biobank with the Department of Pathology and Molecular Medicine, working alongside radiation oncologists on a brain metastases clinic, and work with the Centre for Health Innovation.

Even her entrepreneurial side is driven to help those around her. Dr. Purzner has three children aged three, five and seven. It’s no coincidence that she co-founded Cerebelly, an innovative baby food brand that optimizes early brain development. Cerebelly is recognized nationally in the United States and is available in over 7,000 stores – with plans to expand into Canada in 2022 or 2023.

“The goal is not to augment brain growth or to create Einstein babies but to create a baby food that provides nutrients that optimally support brain growth at the early stage of development,” she explains. “The first three years of life see astronomical brain growth and by the age of three kids have actually grown almost all their brain neurons.”

Alumni on the list
- Janice Ciavaglia, ArtSci’05, CEO, Assembly of First Nations
- Sarah Joyce, Com’08, Senior Vice President, Ecommerce, Sobeys
- Andrew Joyner, ArtSci’06, Managing Director, Tricon Residential
- Robert Marsh, Com’07, President, Liberty Mutual Canada
- Leon Ng, ArtSci’04, Founder & CEO, LNG Studios

Her other major success south of the border came while studying developmental neurobiology at Stanford University. Her thesis work was a mass collaboration that involved cancer biologists, chemists, and clinicians. At Stanford, she employed novel techniques in mass spectrometry and developmental neurobiology to discover a new drug target for medulloblastoma, the most common pediatric brain tumor. Her dynamic work, done in collaboration with Stanford SPARK and the Pediatric Brain Tumor Consortium (PBTC), is moving through clinical trials with the hope of ultimately leading towards regulatory approval.

“I just really like very complicated problems that take a while to solve, but when they are solved directly impact the health and happiness of people around me,” she says.

Dr. Purzner considers “real science, transparency” and “accessibility” the pillars of her successful career. “It’s so easy to scare people or head towards hyperbole when it comes to science. I try to stay true to science and communicate it as simply and plainly as I can.”

Equally plain to see is her commitment to interdisciplinary teamwork.

“For me collaboration isn’t just a buzzword, it’s the foundation of everything I’ve done,” she says. “I love the creativity and openness of research – having a job where you can just ask questions.”

Learn more about Dr. Purzner. Learn more about Canada’s Top 40 Under 40.


Subscribe to RSS - Health Sciences